Punishments and Defenses Relating to Law School Misconduct Charges

The big question in many law-student-misconduct cases isn't what the student did. The big question in many cases is instead what the law school threatens and intends to do about it. That threat of sanctions can cause greater concern for the accused law student than the charge itself. The charge may be discouraging, embarrassing, and distracting. But the potential sanction is often a much-greater concern. What might happen if the charge is true?

If you are a law student facing misconduct charges or have a family member or friend who is, then national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento wants you to know the answers. Law students facing misconduct charges need open eyes to the potential consequences and what they can do about them. Attorney Joseph Lento an his nationwide practice is dedicated to saving the future careers of law students and other students from misconduct charges. Read here what attorney Joseph Lento knows about the potential punishments for law school misconduct and what, with his skilled representation, you can do about it.

Punishments and Defenses Generally

The question of the law school's impulse toward misconduct sanctions raises two important issues. The first issue has to do with what the law school states are its potential punishments for misconduct. What is the school threatening to do, exactly? Law students sometimes misunderstand the potential consequences of alleged misconduct. They may assume that at worst, their course grade will suffer or that they'll have to withdraw and repeat a course or submit a revised assignment, when instead, the consequences may be much worse. Punishments matter. Know what's at stake. Know the sanctions that the school threatens for any level of misconduct.

The other issue, though, has to do with what the accused law student can do about the potential or actual charges. A misconduct charge does not mean a misconduct finding is inevitable, even when all or substantially all of the alleged actions in fact occurred. Innocent conduct can, under some circumstances, look like guilty misconduct. A law student may have a perfectly reasonable, even laudable, explanation for the student's seemingly poor and sanctionable actions. Or the student may have faced compelling extenuating circumstances that the school would accept to mitigate or eliminate any sanction. In any one case, these sorts of defenses to misconduct charges can make all the difference.

In short, a successful outcome to misconduct charges can involve both knowing the potential sanctions and forestalling those sanctions with a thorough presentation of defenses and mitigating factors. Consider the potential punishments next, followed by defenses.

Example Punishments

The potential punishments for student misconduct among different law schools are broad, varied , and flexible, including that the lists of punishments are often expressly non-exhaustive. Law schools typically list a spectrum of progressively more-severe sanctions. Consider the specific potential-punishment provisions of the student-conduct policies of these prominent law schools:

  • University of Michigan Law School potential misconduct sanctions include a misconduct declaration, formal apology, formal or informal reprimand, direction to stop the misconduct, restitution, dormitory eviction, denial of academic credit, suspension, expulsion, or other student rehabilitation;
  • Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center potential misconduct sanctions include public reprimand, denial of course credit, suspension, or expulsion;
  • Duke Law School potential misconduct sanctions include written reprimand, suspension, or expulsion;
  • University of Washington School of Law potential misconduct sanctions include warning, reprimand, restitution, disciplinary probation, suspension, dismissal, forfeiture of scholarships and awards, and other sanctions that the university's conduct code permits;
  • Columbia Law School potential misconduct sanctions include warning, reprimand, probation, counseling, additional work, extra credits to graduate, restitution, community service, grade or credit reduction, failing grade, suspension, expulsion, refusal to certify to the Bar, and degree revocation.

Punishment Impacts: What's on the Line at Each Level

Law students facing a law school's progressively more-severe potential punishments should not misunderstand their impacts and implications. Consider those impacts of each of the following progressive potential punishments in turn, while reading more here about the high cost and potential collateral consequences of school misconduct charges.

Declaration of Misconduct. A simple declaration of misconduct, without any other consequence, not even a reprimand, may sound trifling. For a law student, the impact may be greater than the embarrassment or annoyance of the school telling the student that the student had done wrong. Law students who graduate and apply to the bar must typically disclose law school or other academic institution findings of misconduct. That disclosure may trigger a character-and-fitness investigation, delay in bar licensure, and delay or loss of employment.

Reprimand. A reprimand for misconduct, even without any other sanction such as grade reduction or loss of course credit, increases the likelihood for state bar character-and-fitness investigation, hearing, and attendant delay. A reprimand is also more likely than a simple declaration to cause the student to lose curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular opportunities, including employment, especially with courts, government offices, and other institutions of public or special trust. A reprimand, in short, could cripple the law student's academic interests, leading to greater subsequent career loss.

Reduced Grade. Any grade reduction presents a potentially more-significant sanction than a simple declaration or reprimand for the reasons just given above. Grade reductions can also reduce a law student's class standing, which may affect school awards, scholarship awards and opportunities, co-curricular opportunities, internships, and employment. Depending on the law student's goals and other awards and attributes, a grade-point average can mean a lot or a little to a law student. Don't let misconduct make the choice for you of having to rely on other indicators of success.

Loss of Course Credit. A failing grade would have the same deleterious effects as a grade reduction while also requiring a repeat of a failed required course or additional credits for the lost elective credits. Loss of course credit in later terms can cause a graduation delay, requiring substantial additional tuition, housing, and related expenditures to complete the degree, and causing a loss of employment, internships, clerkships, and other career opportunities. Repeating a course for misconduct reasons also typically requires paying again for the course.

Suspension. Suspension of the law student due to misconduct multiplies all of the above negative impacts. Suspension surely means graduation delay, with all of its attendant tuition and housing costs and potential clerkship, internship, and employment losses. Losing a term or year to suspension also delays entry into what is for many new law graduates a lucrative practice field. The biggest loss can thus be delayed career income. A one-year or two-year delay due to suspension can reduce earnings in each subsequent year for as long as a decade or more.

Dismissal. Dismissal from law school is indeed a severe sanction. Dismissed law students sometimes seek admission to another law school, hoping to start or complete a law-degree program elsewhere under better circumstances. When they do so, the new law school will require the dismissal law school to provide a letter of good standing, which the dismissal law school cannot generally do in the instance of a misconduct dismissal. Without that certification, a new law school will be reluctant at best to accept the dismissed student. More likely, misconduct dismissal means denial of entry into other law schools, not to mention other graduate and professional programs.

Degree Revocation. Degree revocation is akin to permanent dismissal, except that it arises only where the student has graduated, earning the degree, by the time that the misconduct comes to light or results in a sanction. The graduate who suffers degree withdrawal or revocation loses any other career benefit attendant on having earned the law degree. Those lost benefits surely include law licensure and employment as a practicing lawyer.

Defenses to Law School Misconduct Charges

Affirmative Defenses. You can see how serious law school misconduct charges can be, from the progressively more-severe sanctions that can result and their attendant losses. Yet all is not lost when charges arise. Attorney Joseph D. Lento's aggressive defense to law school misconduct charges may prove untrue the underlying allegations. Complaining witnesses may have misunderstood the circumstances, misperceived facts, or made otherwise unreliable observations, all of which cross-examination of those witnesses can reveal. But even if the charge's fact circumstances are largely true, other facts, if proven as an affirmative defense, may defeat the charge. These defenses can include:

  • when the accused student had the instructor's consent or institution's approval to do as alleged in the specific instance;
  • when the accused student reasonably relied on the apparent authority of other students, teaching assistants, other professors, school staff, or school administrators to approve what the student did;
  • when the professor did not adequately instruct and publish the putative course or exam requirements that the student allegedly violated;
  • when the accused student's conduct fell within school customs and generally accepted practices that the school and faculty members required or ratified, notwithstanding published requirements to the contrary;
  • when the accused student did not have the guilty intent that the charge requires, such as when the student reasonably misperceived the circumstances to be other than they in fact were and thus acted innocently on mistaken belief or information; or
  • when the complaining party or school violated the accused student's privacy, constitutional, contractual, or other rights when investigating or pursuing the misconduct charge.

Mitigating Factors. Mitigating factors are circumstances that, if present, should, in fairness and equity reduce the potential penalty for student misconduct that in fact occurred. Law school officials investigating and charging student misconduct may have only an incomplete view of the accused student's full circumstances. Some of those circumstances, like the following examples, may compel decision-makers to reduce any punishment or other sanction:

  • medical emergencies of the student or student's family members;
  • sudden medical events producing student mental disabilities;
  • family or other relational crises producing aberrant emotional responses;
  • cultural misunderstandings as to customs and expectations;
  • bullying and harassment producing compensating syndromes;
  • an accused student's efforts at helping other students avoid misconduct;
  • sterling prior academic and personal-conduct record; and
  • in appropriate instances, prompt confession and correction of the wrong.

Elaborate Procedures Help Prove Defenses and Mitigation

How, though, would a law student get these defenses and mitigating factors before the decision-maker? Fortunately, law schools typically maintain elaborate procedures for resolving misconduct charges. Those procedures present substantial opportunities for national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to present compelling evidence supporting defenses and mitigating factors.

Law schools routinely offer a formal hearing before an independent decision-maker to any student accused of misconduct that could result in suspension or dismissal, as this example illustrates. A hearing allows the accused student, with the expert help of the student's lawyer representative, to present witnesses and other evidence on defenses and mitigating factors. Skilled cross-examination of the law school's witnesses may bolster those defenses and mitigating factors, as may the lawyer representative's summary closing argument, permitted by some schools like this prominent example.

These trial-like procedures ensure that law students can raise and prove defenses and mitigating factors, reducing or eliminating sanctions. That's why legal procedures offer trials, and law school administrative procedures offer trial-like proceedings: to reach fair and just outcomes balanced by both sides' advocacy.

Retain the Best Available Attorney

The key to a successful outcome, though, is to retain the best available counsel. Procedures are fine, as far as they go. But if the accused law student fails to take due advantage of those procedures, then the procedures themselves mean little or nothing.

Gain the full benefit of defenses and mitigating factors by retaining national law-student attorney Joseph D. Lento's premier representation. Attorney Lento's trial skills and trial-lawyer strategies and stance ensure the most-compelling presentation of all available defenses and mitigating factors. Attorney Lento knows how law school officials treat misconduct proceedings, including what most moves and convinces them of an accused student's innocence or explanatory circumstances. He gained that knowledge from years of representing students nationwide on all kinds of misconduct charges.

A law student should have such skilled representation in any formal misconduct proceeding, especially one in which the potential punishment includes anything that may appear on the law student's official record. Bar applicants must disclose law school misconduct proceedings. Adverse misconduct findings are likely enough to result in a state-bar character-and-fitness hearing, delaying licensure by months, if not potentially altogether preventing licensure. Such concerns obviously warrant the best available representation.

Students nationwide have trusted national student-misconduct attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to successfully defend against misconduct charges of all kinds. You, too, can trust attorney Joseph Lento to help you successfully navigate law school misconduct proceedings, defending and defeating false charges while proving other factors mitigating any potential punishment. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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